Published on Monday, January 19, 2004 by the Inter Press Service
Global Activists Gather to Change the World
MUMBAI, INDIA - After an opening night filled with music and pulsating rhythms, grassroots activists speaking up for the world's oppressed turned up in the thousands Saturday to focus their attention on serious business -- how to change the world.
The organizers of the fourth World Social Forum (WSF) here had a feast of intellectual and political treats for the participants. Over 200 seminars, debates and discussions were on the day's agenda for the close to 100,000 participants from 132 countries to choose from.
They ranged from heavy issues like 'Deepening Democracy' and 'Global Governance and the Nation State' to touching subjects like 'Voices of Disabled Children'.
The Indian hosts of this year's WSF were elated at the massive show of force in a field here on Friday night where the curtains went up to mark the opening ceremony of this six day-long gathering, which will run from Jan. 16 to 21. ''There were close to 100,000 people who attended the opening event,'' Gautam Mody, a member of the WSF's communications committee, told IPS.
The police, however, estimated the numbers who assembled under the night sky to listen to politically charged speeches and a rich offering of global music to be close to 88,000.
Among the speakers were Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian lawyer who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year, and Indian novelist and political activist Arundhati Roy.
The music that flowed ranged from Indian and Pakistani sounds to those from South Africa.
Leading up to this outpouring of rage and music were a swirl of cultures that bubbled during a march through the sprawling venue of the WSF in Goreagon, on the outskirts of this city.
Tibetan monks dressed in their burgundy robes blended with South Asian sex workers clamoring for their rights and dancing troupes of India's untouchable caste, the Dalits.
Expectations about what the WSF had to offer participants varied from region to region. So, too, the messages they were bringing in to raise awareness.
Voices from Asia, for instance, are hoping to find support for local issues and those that have international relevance. The most brash on Friday was a crowd of some 200 South Korean activists who turned up the tempo at the venue with their collective chants.
''We are here to make the point that revolution is the only solution to the world's problems,'' said Kim Snghyun, an activist belonging to the South Korean group 'Globalization from Below.' ''This forum is useful to make people understand what we seek.''
For Tibetan activist Lobsang Dolkar, the burning issue of the day is more personal -- the freedom of the world's youngest political prisoner, the Eleventh Panchen Lama, Gendhun Choekyi Nyima of Tibet, who was kidnapped by the Chinese government when he was six years old.
''We need to build more support to free Tibet from Chinese occupation,'' she said. ''Freedom for the political prisoners is an issue we want support from people here.''
Indian lawyer Anil Kumar Mittal was more philosophical about the significance of the WSF. ''This forum is primarily meant to propagate a certain concept about the abuse taking place under the name of globalization.''
He also hoped that the intellectual elite in the movement ''the people who know more about the issues'' would share their knowledge with those who know less.
Latin American activists look forward to the Mumbai gathering to breathe more energy into a movement that began in their backyard, Porto Alegre, Brazil. ''This is useful to show the North that a strategy to eliminate poverty is urgent,'' said Juan Tuyuc, from Platforma Agraria, Guatemala. ''I expect that Mumbai would have a global impact to fight poverty.''
As relevant, says a Chilean activist, is what the events in India offer those coming from South America. ''This forum is another opportunity for Latin Americans to know another way of thinking,'' said Hector Ramirez of Colectivo Utopia, Chile.
But he wants more than fine words to emerge after the five days of talks and cultural events. ''This is an opportunity to look for concrete steps, such as plans to fight for fair trade. Otherwise, the forum will lose its credibility.''
An African activist feels likewise, saying that she would want to see action beyond Mumbai. ''Civil society groups from Third World countries must begin to figure out practical ways to change the world,'' said Mustapha Hauwa of the Nigeria Labour Congress.
''Civil society activists should take the messages from the forum home and feed it to the grassroots people,'' she added, since civil society groups ''are the ones involved with the communities who are the victims of globalization''.
What they see as the need to respond to the growing threat of wars and the dangers of nuclear proliferation is what drew participants from Europe and the United States.
French peace activist Arielle Denis hopes to convert this week's events into a platform to rage against ''wars and the logic of war''. She will be leading a group here to rally global support for Mar. 20 - a year to the day Washington launched its invasion on Iraq -- to be declared an international day to protest wars.
Steve Leeper, an activist from Atlanta, fears that nuclear weapons will be used in ''two or three years'' given the current political climate. ''This will lead to nuclear terrorism.''
The WSF is an opportunity to raise voices against such a terrifying prospect, he said. ''We are pushing to get an international ban on nuclear weapons in order to create a political climate to stop such nuclear threats.''
After India, the host nation that has the largest presence here that runs into the tens of thousands, the countries with a sizeable presence are Brazil, France, Germany, and Pakistan.
Copyright © 2004 IPS-Inter Press Service